GOIN’ BACK TO CALI
Everyone is YG’s hype man tonight, including Keke Palmer. The actress, decked out in all red with a backwards Compton cap to match, is among the 30-plus entourage members and media who’ve swarmed the backstage area of Irving Hall after an hour of limb-flailing to the L.A. rapper’s party-starters like “My Hitta” and “Who Do You Love?” The creaky floor-boards are showing their age, and the window unit is barely cooling the cramped space. Standing toward the back in a bright white tee, tube socks, and RVCA shorts held up by a Fendi belt, YG greets Palmer and waves her into his inner-inner circle.
The 24-year-old rapper’s ability to sketch tales of his L.A. hood—and make people dance in the process—has everyone from gang members to small-town girls like Palmer looking to join his movement. “Compton is a place people always want to visit,” says YG over the phone, three days removed from his energetic performance. “They want to know about our lifestyle. My music is like the culture of L.A. gangsta-slash-party shit. It’s like watching an action movie.”
A blunt narration of life on the illicit side, YG’s Def Jam debut, My Krazy Life, could’ve easily dropped during the era when Snoop and 2Pac reigned supreme. Like his West Coast forefathers, YG remains unapologetic about his street lifestyle. He raps about bur- glarizing homes (see the true-to-life “Meet the Flockers”), and his album cover art is a mug shot. His odes to recklessness have simultane- ously sparked criticism and made him a prime representative of L.A.’s rap rebirth. “I wanted to come out with a classic,” says YG. “So I was studying classic albums while making my album—Chronic 2001, Ready to Die, Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Doing a lot of homework.”
Academics weren’t exactly a priority for YG as a kid. Back then, he just went by Keenon Jackson, and stumbled into street activity by association. Born in Compton, he’s openly flaunted his membership in the infamous Bloods gang—his song “Bicken Back Being Bool” incorporates their “B” vocabulary. “I ain’t go looking for it,” says YG. “Being from L.A., that’s all you’re around. So you eventually become a gang member if you’re about that life.” Robberies and school brawls became his unofficial occupation, before he found a professional path in 2009. The humorously titled “Toot It and Boot It” became big enough to land him a deal with Def Jam, though a parole violation for a prior home burglary held up his progress.
Nonetheless, My Krazy Life’s debut at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 is a huge leap forward. And YG’s success has run in tandem with that of his DJ, Dijon McFarlane (a.k.a. DJ Mustard), whose keyed-up production and club thumps are the perfect complement to YG’s ruthless raps about crime, sex, and everything explicit in between. “He wasn’t producing at first. We sat in the studio, and he started making beats around my rap style,” says YG. “That’s why our chemistry is what it is, and we got this shit down pat.”
Back at Irving Hall, the clock strikes midnight. YG’s most dedicated followers, those who’d like photographic evidence of their allegiance, have formed a line in the emptied-out venue. One by one, they walk up to him for pictures and autographs. There’s a kid with toilet paper stuck to his sneakers and a girl in a black My Krazy Life T-shirt and shorts that read LEFT and RIGHT on each cheek. This is only the beginning, but clearly his music has resonated. He already has disciples. And his modest goal of “taking over the world,” as he says, has been set in motion.
-words by Clover Hope
-photographed by Nick Sethi